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Database management: It's all in the details

database

Take a second to think about all the ways information in a membership database is used: email communications, membership renewals, event management, certification records, merchandise purchases and statistics are just a few of the possibilities. An organization can use its membership database in numerous ways, but in order for a database to be truly useful it must be maintained. Keeping up with database management is a big job and shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Here are a few tips I always keep in mind when working on a database.

Attention to detail is a must. It might be tempting to rush through updates but typos can lead to missed communication opportunities and even lost revenue. I’m all for efficiency, but there is no point in having a database if the information is inaccurate. Taking a little extra time to make sure information is entered correctly is well worth the effort.

Format consistently. This is especially important if the database is used to generate items like membership directories or event registration lists. Abbreviations, address information and punctuation should all be entered in a consistent format. Otherwise, those lists and directories may end up looking unprofessional and unpolished. If multiple individuals are responsible for entering and updating records make sure everyone involved is aware of these formatting guidelines.

Keep up with database maintenance. On a busy day it’s easy to set database updates aside for another time, but in my experience it’s more practical to add or update records right away. If I absolutely can’t get to an update that day, I put it in a designated folder in my inbox. I have a calendar item set up reminding me to check that folder each morning.

The database will never be complete and can always be improved. Membership is always changing so database management is an ongoing project. As membership evolves, the database should too. Don’t be afraid to make changes to the database setup to better meet the needs of the organization. The database is a powerful resource but it must work for an organization!

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Social media strategy: What would Don and Peggy do?

The suitcase peggy and don bar

I’m obsessed with Mad Men, the AMC television show about Madison Avenue advertising in the 1960’s, now in its semi-final season. I love the writing and the drama. The clothes, the period décor — they’re eye candy. The characters are as fresh and innovative as the campaigns they pitch. Don Draper is the man in control. I loathe him for his habitual infidelity, while secretly longing for the show’s writers to take him back to his dark side. And Peggy Olson? She’s the feminists’ every girl; the advertising exec career woman I would have been had I not been born too late to rock polyester plaid and Lucite earrings.

But here’s the thing: As I watch each episode of each tragically short season from the comfort of my 21st Century couch, I’m not thinking just about how far we’ve come in workplace gender equality or how fortunate we are not to have seen a fashion resurgence in wide ties. I’m also thinking about how narrow the media focus is at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP) compared to what communications and marketing professionals must embrace today.

A whole new world

As ad account executive and creative director, Don and Peggy fashioned pitches for magazines and newspapers. Later, they adapted their skills for a TV audience, writing commercials for floor cleaner and hair spray. And that was pretty much it. TV and print. Maybe a billboard or a radio spot thrown in.

Fast forward 50 years. We still have TV, although DVRs and webcasts have changed the playing field for advertisers. Calls for the death of print have been slightly premature — magazines are still thriving (newspapers, not so much). Digital media has opened a whole new world to communications. Today’s audiences are inundated with information from the World Wide Web, eblasts, texts, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google, mobile apps, blogs, robo-calls, and on and on.

For associations struggling to grasp all these media options (with vastly smaller staffs than SCDP, I might add), the question becomes, How much is too much?

Change the conversation
All of AMPED’s associations have accounts on two or more social media platforms. A few of them also have their own custom online communities. Add to that eblasts, newsletters and website posts and you have at least seven possible touches for every one message in a multi-message campaign.

You can imagine, there’s a very real danger of over posting and turning off an audience. The challenge is finding the right balance so that followers stay engaged and enlightened.

1. Keep it fresh. You don’t want your members to go to your social media site and find months’ old news. In fact, not filling your page with fresh photos and posts can be worse than not having a page at all. Neglect your Facebook page and it’s like neglecting your members.

2. Time it wisely. Schedule dedicated time every week to focus on social media. And don’t post too much in too short a time or your followers will start to ignore you.

3. Reconsider the number of channels you’re using. While there’s no doubt that associations need a strong presence in social media, don’t substitute the quantity of your placements for quality. Two to three social media channels is manageable. Any more and you may find yourself neglecting a few. (see tip #1) And be sure your members are actually using the social media channels before you commit resources to maintaining them.

4. Above all, be social. Don’t just announce an upcoming meeting; highlight a special event or location that will intrigue readers. Use conversational tones in your writing. Include slang when appropriate. Add photos from previous events. Encourage members to post their own association-related photos and videos. Post “shout outs” to members who have contributed their time or benefitted the association.

As Peggy said, “There’s a fine line between engaging and annoying.” Actually, she never said that. But if she were immersed in the marketing and communications world of today, I imagine she might. I also imagine her getting rid of that lousy apartment, making partner and taking over Don’s old corner office. It could happen.

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Putting on a show: Pet peeves and expectations

CSIA Reception-small

For every one of our client meetings, staff pre-plan, re-plan, adjust, pack, ship and prepare for the unexpected —and the expected.

In preparing for the “big show,” however large or small, I reiterate to both our client and property staff the important aspects of the meeting, my expectations — and some of my pet peeves.

  • Remember why we’re here. It is a privilege to be working with our members. Treat them like royalty.
  • Best foot forward. For sure!
  • First impressions count. Hotel, meeting space room sets should be in tip-top shape. The meeting room is the living room for your attendees. Are you proud to have them over?
  • No garbage. No boxes, scraps of paper, used coffee cups or plates anywhere that attendees can see them.
  • No eating at registration. It’s important for staff to keep up their energy in order to be on the top of their game, but eating should be done in the staff office or with attendees. One of my pet peeves when attending meetings as a registrant is “interrupting” staff from their breakfasts at the registration counter. Drinks are OK.
  • Communication is essential. I schedule daily, or twice daily debriefs with client and venue staff. It’s just a few minutes to plan for the day’s events, make adjustments, set expectations, etc.

Case in point

We just finished another record-breaker, world-class event for AMPED client, www.controlsys.org. Upon arrival at the CSIA conference and following the pre-con, my meeting planner and I were not pleased with the physical condition of the property and expected the hotel to be more proactive with us in communicating some deficiencies we discovered on our own. This is where communication comes in. We swiftly requested a meeting with the general manager and heads of key departments to express our concerns and expectations. I was extremely impressed with their ability to respond, make changes and quickly adjust – a true sign of professionalism and value.

The real-time, back-stage adjustments that take place at an annual meeting are a very tangible example of those that association managers make each day as we respond to members’ needs, requests from leaders and new opportunities – all while focusing on the proactive work of retaining members, growing the associations, advancing the strategic plan and improving governance. It is a pleasure to have industry partners who share the same values and can turn things around quickly!

Communication is typically the key. And starts at the top!

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Tips and tricks for attending your first conference

huemmer biz cards

When I was brought onto the AMPED team in January, one of the first things we did was book my flight for the annual conference of one of our clients. It was several months away, and I didn’t think much of it, as I was trying to learn and retain everything about my new position as quickly as possible. It really wasn’t until the week before that it occurred to me that I had never been to a conference of any kind, and I had no idea what to anticipate. So if you plan on attending a conference for the first time, here are some tips on how to prepare, what to pack, and what to expect.

How to prepare:
Determine what you hope to accomplish there. Making a small itinerary or schedule gives you an idea of just how much time you have available. Plan to meet with colleagues whom you’ve only ever talked with over the phone, as it will put a face to the voice and help you connect better. Put aside time for programs and presentations that you would not normally have access to outside of a conference venue. And if you are giving a presentation yourself, have duplicates of your visuals handy, whether it be on a thumb drive or in the cloud.

What to pack:
It’s hard to anticipate everything you will need once you’re there. Pack your essentials, of course. Plus, I suggest packing an extra day’s worth of clothing. It’s always good to remember that with your clients, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed, so having several nicer outfits is important. Also make sure that you have everything that you will need to accomplish your goals at the conference: business cards, notepads, phone charger, etc. And comfortable shoes. I don’t think I can stress that enough.

What to expect:
There will be a copious number of people to meet and names to remember. Business cards will help, but following up with connections afterwards, and sometimes writing notes on the card itself will help you remember who they were. The days will be early and long, but fun and informative. Make sure you meet new people, as everyone will be a part of the conference and will have several things in common with you right off the bat. Who knows – the person you sit next to at lunch could be a potential business partner down the road.

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy yourself. Though it’s a whirlwind of activity, the days are long and the work is hard, remember to step back and appreciate the experience. People are there to enjoy themselves and to connect, so you should do the same. I thoroughly enjoyed my first conference and look forward to more down the road!

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Holding a meeting overseas? Be flexible.

international-meeting

I’ve been very fortunate to travel the world because of my profession of putting together special events and various types of meetings for international associations. I’ve met so many people, experienced different cultures and seen marvelous landscapes. I’ve also met hard-working convention services staff, tour operators and logistics experts — all with the focused desire of helping a meeting planner’s event to be successful. I’ve learned a few things along the way. I learned that trivial things like paper, holidays and break time mattered.  No, it’s not written in any meeting planning books or convention services manual. Here are a few I’ve learned from experience.

If you prepared hand-outs of a presentation and need extra copies, know that the 8.5” x 11” letter-sized paper we’re so used to is not universal. It is rare in some parts of Europe and the Middle East. They use A4 paper. So, be OK with having different sized hand-outs. Better yet, bring enough copies or print onsite.

Especially in the Middle East, some countries have generous vacation leaves and holidays to as much as 60 days a year. If you send a question to your local contact, don’t be surprised that it doesn’t’ get answered for some weeks. Allow plenty of time in your timeline, clarify and communicate expectations ahead of time.

They say that U.S. workers log in the most work hours among other industrialized countries. We eat our lunch at our desks and seldom take breaks. Early on, when I set up vendor meetings abroad, I packed them by the minute in the hope I could get work done quicker and return home sooner. I learned that I need to be culturally sensitive and avoid scheduling too fast of a lunch meeting or too early of an afternoon meeting. I’ve discovered that taking it easy is one way to encourage vendors to work hard on your behalf.

The key is being flexible and adaptable. When faced by a disruption in schedule or process, relax and smile. As Julius Caesar said, “experience is the teacher of all things.”

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